Episode 21: The Apostle Paul calls the Sabbath a “shadow of things to come.” Most people usually think of it as a shadow of things from the past. However, viewers will learn in episode twenty-one that the Sabbath is a foreshadow of things still yet to come. Jesus and the Sabbath both provide rest and the Sabbath rest is a taste of the final rest we will have in the Messianic Era when Messiah returns to set up his kingdom. Thus for those who still observe the Sabbath today, it is a promise of what is to come, the Messianic Age.
The Lesson: The Mystery of the Sabbath Rest
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki starts out the exploration of this mystery with what most of us consider to be a familiar lesson from Jesus:
Turn to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will cause you to rest. Accept upon yourself my yoke and learn from me, for I am humble and lowly in spirit, and you will find a resting place for your souls. For my yoke is pleasant and my burden light.
–Matthew 11:28-29 (DHE Gospels)
There’s a lot we think we know about this teaching. We think we know that Jesus wants us to believe in him so that becoming a Christian will provide our souls rest. We think he means that his yoke, his grace, is a pleasant and light “burden” when compared to the Law of Moses. We think that Jesus is always humble and lowly rather than being like the vengeful God of the Old Testament.
But we’re probably not correct, at least not entirely. One of the points Toby made (and he’s made it before, is that when we use improper Biblical exegesis, we often come up with incorrect theology. That statement most likely won’t make some Christian readers happy since once taught, the traditional theology is the Church is set in stone. But sometimes examining a familiar view from an unfamiliar perspective yields new insights.
So if what we typically understand about the “rest” being described by Jesus isn’t correct, then, from a Messianic Jewish perspective, what is it?
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.
–Hebrews 4:9-11 (NASB)
Toby says that there’s a link between Matthew 11:28-29 and Hebrews 4:9-11. They both talk about a “rest,” though in the case of the writer of Hebrews, it’s specifically a Shabbat rest. Toby leads his audience through a small Bible study on Hebrews 4:
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
–Hebrews 4:1-2 (NASB)
They too had a rest they could have entered, the rest of the Promised Land, Israel. But they did not due to lack of faith. Toby next presents verses 3 and 4 as connecting this rest to the Sabbath:
For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,
“As I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest,”
although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”
The writer of Hebrews is actually quoting Exodus 20:11 which is the commandment of observing the Sabbath. But verses 9 through 11 are not specifically referring to the seventh day Sabbath or the rest represented by entering the Land of Israel. Verse 9 says “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” What rest is that?
According to Toby, these passages are sometimes used by Christians to “prove” that Jesus is our spiritual rest so we don’t need to observe an actual, physical day of rest, neither Gentile Christians nor any Jewish person. But the writer of Hebrews is clearly referring to something in the future, not something that’s already happened. If Hebrews 4 links back to the “rest” which Jesus was teaching about in Matthew 11, then we have reached our first clue.
Clue 1: The rest that Jesus offers us is something that is in the future.
Verses 10 and 11 in Hebrews 4 is a warning not to be disobedient to God as were the first generation of Israelites who disobeyed by refusing to enter the Land of Promise. Obedience of the people of God is required for them…for us to be able to enter into that future rest of Jesus. But again, what rest is that? To us, this represents a Biblical mystery, but to the original audience listening to Jesus or the original Jewish readers of Matthew’s gospel, it was probably self-evident. How would they have understood the word “rest,” which in Hebrew is “Menuchah?”
To answer that question, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel. Aaron first reads from a portion of the Siddur (Jewish prayer-book) which describes the Shabbat as a rest of “love, willingness, truth, faith, peace, tranquility, stillness, trust,” and “a complete rest in which you find favor.”
Clearly, the concept of Shabbat is more than just relaxing in front of the tube or playing a few rounds of golf.
Rest is used in a somewhat different context in the Bible. Aaron quoted from Deuteronomy 12:19 referring to Israel, 1 Chronicles 22:9 which refers to Solomon as “a man of rest” and a King who will reign over a nation experiencing rest, peace, and quiet, and 1 Kings 8:56 which is part of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple. These images represent the age of Messianic redemption and the Temple is a portrait of the fulfillment of all the Messianic promises. Aaron also links this to the poetic language of the Rabbis who consider the weekly Shabbat to be a tiny fraction of what will be experienced in the age to come…a forestate of the Kingdom of God.
Back in the studio with Toby, we receive the next clue:
Clue 2: The Sabbath rest is a foretaste of the rest in the Messianic Era.
I can certainly see why the seventh-day Sabbath rest is considered a blessing of both physical and spiritual rest for observant Jews. Not only is it a day to rest in the holiness and peace of God in our age, but it is a miniature representation of the full and complete rest that will be experienced when Messiah reigns in Jerusalem and over all the world, an age of total, worldwide peace.
But in traditional Christian interpretation, we encounter a problem:
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
–Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)
I mentioned these verses among others in my review last week as the “Christian defense” against acknowledging an ongoing Shabbat observance or any such keeping of a Sabbath in the future. When I typically hear language like “type and shadow” in a Christian context, it usually means that such “shadows” came to point us to Jesus, but now that he’s come, the shadows are no longer necessary. However, that interpretation is filtered through a great deal of Protestant tradition and ignores what Paul is actually saying.
Paul said that the Sabbath is a “mere shadow of what is to come,” not what has already come. If, at his first coming, Jesus “fulfilled” the requirement of the Shabbat, then why does Paul refer to the future?
Also, and I’d like to thank Toby for bringing this up, let’s talk about this “shadow” thing. Again, the typical Church teaching on a “shadow” is that it’s basically something of limited usefulness and utility, and was only a poor imitation of something that the Jewish people had to make do with until Christ. Once Christ came, the shadows were eliminated by the “light of the world” and what was temporary then passed away.
What is a shadow? In a common context, it’s just an area where light is being blocked by an object in between a light source and whatever the light happens to be shining at. A shadow generally renders the shape of the object blocking the light. If Jesus is the “substance” or body of the shadow, then, to extend the metaphor, the Sabbath is “Jesus-shaped.”
If we put all this together, then the Sabbath day is a “shape” or “outline” of something with more substance that will occur in the future and has something to do with the “body” of Messiah. Since that future event has yet to occur, we still exist in the shadow or rather, the seventh-day Shabbat still has purpose and meaning as an image of something even greater and more peaceful to come. Jesus has not replaced the Sabbath and perhaps he never will. In the future, he will fill to complete fullness what we only have a taste of in the current age.
Toby related a number of Talmudic references I’ll pass over (please view the actual episode to get those details) but concludes, using Rabbinic and poetic language, that such concepts link both to 2 Peter 3:8 and Revelation 20:1-6 in describing the thousand-year Messianic reign of Jesus. This is the third and final clue:
Clue 3: The Sabbath foreshadows the coming thousand-year reign of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The rest Jesus was talking about is the Messianic Era, and all who are devoted disciples of Messiah and worshipers of the God of Israel will enter that promised rest when Messiah returns to take up his throne. But we must remain faithful to the end in order to enter that rest.
What Did I Learn?
Something rather poignant. There are a couple of sequences in every episode of the FFOZ TV show that describe the learning materials and other products available through First Fruits of Zion. One of the things this show is supposed to inspire is a desire in the viewers to want to learn more, which can be accomplished through the many fine resources provided by FFOZ.
But in one of these sequences, the voice over said that a “prophetic restoration is sweeping through the Christian world.” I don’t see anything like that “sweeping” through my little corner of the Christian world. I’m glad it’s happening to someone somewhere.
I was also reminded of last Erev Shabbat. My wife made several loaves of Challah and she once again brought out the Shabbos candles…but she was late. My little reminder in Google calendar said that candle lighting began at 4:56 p.m. and at that time, the candles still hadn’t been ignited. I casually mentioned this to her and received a surprisingly sharp rebuke in return. Why should I, a Gentile Christian (she didn’t actually call me that), be keeping track of when Shabbat candle lighting is? She had abruptly (and not for the first time) put up a “Keep Out” sign over the entryway to Shabbat in our home.
She subsequently lit the candles but did not invite me to be present.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”
–Matthew 10:34-36 (NASB)
But a husband against a wife, Master?
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
–Matthew 19:6 (NASB)
I should say that in every other area, the missus and I get along and address a wide range of concerns and shared experiences. It’s just this one place, this religious place, where we are segregated and our worlds keep us apart. I know that, for a variety of reasons, she has good cause to be defensive, but I can’t say that it doesn’t still sting a bit for me to be relegated to one world where our faith is concerned, while my wife inhabits another.
So it is for many other Christians and Jews in the present age, when many Jewish people see Shabbat as a blessing exclusively for the Jews and to be jealously guarded against outsiders (even if they’re in the same home), and most Christians have no desire to participate in a “shadow” that has long since been replaced by Jesus on the cross.
An “exploration of the Christian faith from a Jewish perspective,” Boaz Michael said at the end of the episode. It’s what I’ve recently dedicated myself to, but it seems a journey I am destined to take alone, and a territory I’m trespassing in as an uninvited foreigner.
If I am to believe prophesy, then I am assured that one day, I will become a welcome stranger in that strange land, but in the current age, the citizens of that country, at least the “citizen” I am closest to, does not permit my entry, nor do my own “countrymen,” the people of the Church, believe my travel plans are valid. I can only trust that one day my determination will be justified. Otherwise, I must accept that my role is to escort the Jewish exiles back to their Land and their heritage, to the foot of the Throne of Messiah, and then I must turn around as the celebration begins, and retreat to where my Master would have me go.